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COLONEL PURDY'S REPORT To major general Wilkinson, of the action at Chataugay, &c .
transmitted by the general to the Secretary of War. I arrived at Cumberland head September 16th, 1813, and on the 18th took command of the 4th regiment of infantry, stationed at that place. The army, consisting of about 4000 men, was composed principally of recruits who had been but a short time in the service, and had not been exercised with that rigid discipline so essentially necessary to constitute the soldier. They had indeed been taught various evolutions, but a spirit of subordination was foreign to their views. On the 19th, orders issued for the whole army, except a squadron of horse and the artillery embarked, in batteaux. The army got under weigh, preceded by the light corps, and flanked on the right by the navy, and arrived at Chesy at 12 o'clock at night, lay on their arms, embarked again soon after sun-rise the next morning, proceeded down the lake as far as Champlain, and up Champlain river the distance of four miles, where we landed, and immediately marched to Odletown. The light corps who preceded the other troops some hours, surprised and defeated a guard of the enemy at that place. We remained at Odletown until the middle of the next day, during which time a want of system in the management of the army was readily discovered by every military man, that led to apprehensions for the safety of the troops, should the enemy oppose with any considerable force. The army returned to Champlain on the pist, the 22d to Chesy, and the day following commenced the route to Chataugay.
I'he whole of this march, a distance of more than 70 miles, was very disagreeable: the officers were not permitted to take with them the necessaries, much less the conveniences of life, and were compelled to abandon clothing and other things essentially necessary to preserve the body in health. We forbore complaint, enduring every privation, presuming the commanding officer had sufficient reasons for his conduct, and concluding it was pro bono publico. The scene has passed, and time sufficient has elapsed to have discovered those reasons, had they existed. None have been found : on the contrary, circumstances have demonstrated that it was a useless and unnecessary sacrifice of both public and private property. The army remained at Chataugay 26 days, and on the 21st October commenced an excursion into the enemy's country. The first brigade followed the course of the Chataugay river to Spear's, the distance of 18 miles and upwards, and there met the second brigade, which had taken a nearer and more convenient route. The march was very fatiguing, equalled only by another that soon followed. Credit is due to both the officers and soldiers for their orderly conduct, patience and perseverance, in surmounting the incredible obstacles the enemy threw in their way. On the 25th, a difficult fatiguing expedition' was planned, and the execution of it assigned to the first brigade, which had
for some time previous, and still remained, under my command. The design was to cut off the retreat of a body of the enemy, supposed to be encamped on the banks of the Chataugay, 6 miles distance. With this intention the first brigade was ordered across the river at night, marched silently down, and re-cross at a ford two miles below the enemy, and attack them in rear, giving a preconcerted signal, while the second brigade moved down the road in front. We commenced the march at sun-down, and by sun-rise the next morning had gained only 6 miles. Here we were discovered by the enemy and fired on from the opposite side of the river. During that night we were repeatedly misled by the guides, who knew nothing of the country, having never been that way, and at the time we were attacked, they had led us into a thick cedar growth or swamp on the banks of the river and immediately opposite the enemy's position, and knew not how to extricate us. Incredible as it may appear, general Hampton entrusted nearly one half of his army, and those his best troops, to the guidance of men, each of whom repeatedly assured him that they were not acquainted with the country, and were not competent to direct such an expedition.
At the same time general Hampton told me he had a man by the name of Smith, who had a perfect knowledge of the country, and whom he promised to send me, but which he neglected to do. The defeat of the expedition was the consequence of this neglect of the major general. About 2 o'clock, while receiving an order from colonel King, adjutant general, upon the opposite side of the river, to march back 4 miles and there ford the river and join the second brigade, the enemy made a furious attack on the column by a great discharge of musketry, accompanied by the yells of the savages. Unfortunately, the word “retreat, " was heard, which for a short time spread confusion among the several corps. A sufficient number, however, remained firm, and the enemy was soon compelled to retire. Towards sun-down I sent general Hampton a request, that a regiment might be ordered down to cover my landing on the opposite side of the river ; but judge my surprise, on receiving intelligence that he had retreated, with the second brigade, nearly three miles. Thus was I deserted without the smallest guard to cover my landing. To what cause shall it be attributed, that the general ordered a retreat, and that too at the moment when the presence of the second brigade was required, or could be useful, as soon afterwards he declared “he should be willing to compound with the first brigade for 500 men.” The wounded had previously been conveyed across on rafts, which made a removal of my brigade to that side absolutely necessary for their protection. An attempt was accordingly made, and a floating bridge soon constructed of old logs, found on the margin of the river. The enemy discovering our disposition, commenced firing from the opposite side, and killed several while crossing. Major Snelling, with about 100 men, effected a
tanding, and joined the main body. The remainder of my force, exhausted by the excessive exertions of the preceding night, and weary with the fatigues of the day, not having had a moment either for rest or refreshment, were compelled to endure the privation of sleep another night. We retired two or three miles and took a position. At about 12 o'clock the enemy came up and made an attack upon us, but were soon routed. The men at this time were formed and lying on the ground they were to occupy, in case of an attack, and were ordered to, and did, immediately rise, seize their arms, and remain under them the residue of the night. An excessively heavy rain prevented the firing both of the enemy and ourselves, except occasionally a single gun from the former. Our troops were ordered not to fire, but in case of a repetition of attack to charge bayonets—this was accordingly done. The enemy charged several times, and as often were put to flight. It is observable in this place, that so greatly were the men overpowered by fatigue, though in a situation every way dangerous, and in which they had every reason to believe they should be sallied upon by the enemy every moment, many were unable to conquer their disposition to sleep, and it was not in the power of the officers to keep them awake. It was on the morning of this last attack, that the general expressed his apprehensions for the first brigade, and made the declaration above quoted. The next morning we crossed the river and joined general Hampton; on the 28th the army retreated 4 miles, and on the 30th and 31st marched back to Chataugay. The troops at the times of the attack were not in a situation to endure further fatigue--and it is an indubitable fact, that many of them were so debilitated they were unable to proceed with the brigade on its march from the place of its last attack, and actually did not reach the main body until the day after the brigade had joined it, and some not even until the army had reached the Four Corners of Chataugay.
Never to my knowledge, during our march into Canada, and while we remained at the Four Corners, a term of twenty-six days, did general Hampton ever send off a scouting or reconnoitring party (except in one or two cases at Spear's in Canada, when he detached a few dragoons for this duty); nor did he, from the time we commenced our march from Cumberland Head to our arrival at Plattsburgh, ever order a front flank, or rear guard, to be kept up, though a great part of the time we were in situations that evidently required it. True it is, these guards were occasionally sent out, not, however, by his order, but by the orders of the officers commanding brigades.
By a general order, dated Chataugay, November 5th, the general says he has paid the first attention to the sick, and has granted them indulgences which created murmurings on the part of some officers at their posts. It is only necessary here to observe, that every officer of the army can testify that the sick were very much neglected, as far as regards comfortable quarters and transporta
tion, and that they were strewed along the roads through which we marched, without care or attendance; and it is presumable that many have died in consequence of this, who might have been saved to themselves, if not to the service. The general, indeed, at the time this order was issued, which was after our return to the Four Corners, did order transportation for the sick to Burlington, but this is the only instance to my knowledge.
The commissary's department is worthy of notice. My order for provision was not sufficient; nor could I obtain any but by special license of general Hampton. The commissary of issues has been constantly in the habit of selling the livers, &c. of the beeves to officers; and though I represented this to general Hampton as unusual and improper, he refused to take any other notice of it than saying, “the commissary is accountable for all parts of the beef, even to a pound or ounce of tallow:'' nor did he take any notice of another piece of misconduct of the commissary, that of acting in the capacity of suttler, but sanctioned it by purchasing of him.
The common practices with general Hampton, of arresting officers and releasing them without the knowledge or consent of the officers by whom they were arrested, (the case of lieutenant Morris, of the 33d regiment, who was arrested by me on the charge of cowardice and misconduct before the enemy, on the 26th October, 1813, the time of the skirmish with the enemy at Ormstown, or Chataugay river, being an instance); of refusing to arrest officers whom I reported to him as having deserted their posts in time of action ; of daily issuing orders and countermanding them; and of interfering in an improper manner with subordinate commands of the army, as a reference to the orders issued by him will show, mark very strongly the capriciousness of his conduct and the total want of steadiness in his intentions.
Such has been the general's conduct on some occasions, that I have, in coinmon with other officers, been induced to believe that he was under the influence of a too free use of spirituous liquors.
I must, in justice to general Hampton, say, that the expedition he planned, and which I have called “difficult and fatiguing," did, at the time it was suggested to me by him, meet my full approbation, and that I have since no reason for changing my opinion of its practicability or usefulness, but I must also say that it reguired competent guides, and these (as I said before) be promised to furnish me, but did not.
I am of opinion no officer that has served under major general Hamptol, on the late campaign, can, or will, contradict this statement.
ROBERT PURDY, Col. 4th Inf.
of American Prisoners in Quebec. Extract of a letter from captain M Donough, commanding the
United States' naval force on lake Champlain, to the Secretary of the Navy, dated
“PLATTSBURG BAY, November 23d, 1813. "Accompanying this is the voluntary statement of Abraham Walter, who was pilot of one of the sloops taken last summer He has made his escape from Quebec; and after a severe journey of ten days, reported himself to me yesterday.” Affidavit of Abrahain Walter, pilot of the United States' sloop
Growler, on lake Champlain, viz.
Abraham Walter, formerly pilot of the sloop of war Growler, on lake Champlain, being duly sworn, deposeth and saith, that he was employed on board that sloop when it was taken by the British in June last; that after the sloops Growler and Eagle were surrendered, the prisoners, both officers and sailors, were taken to Quebec, where they were immediately confined on board a prison ship; there they were examined by a public officer or examiner, and about eight or ten of the prisoners declared to be British subjects; these were immediately separated from the rest, and put on board a man of war and sent to England, to be tried for treason. One of these was known to be a native of New Hampshire by captain Herrick, of the New Hampshire volunteers, who was also a prisoner, and who had known him from his infancy and several of the rest were declared by others of their acquaintance to be native citizens of the United States. These representations were unavailing with the British officers who commanded, and they were torn thus from their companions to defend themselves against the charge of treason in England.
The residue were still confined in their prison ships, in a situation more disagreeable than can well be imagined.
Some time after, a number of British vessels were wishing to proceed to Halifax, the crews of which had mostly been pressed out of them to fight the American forces on the upper lakes, and seamen were wanted to supply their places. Governor Prevost sent an order to general Glascow, who then commanded there, directing him to proceed on board the prison-ship and to induce the prisoners to volunteer to man their feet for Halifax ; and in case they refused to comply, to force them on board for that purpose. The application was made; but the American prisoners, considering the measure unjustifiable towards their own government, refused to volunteer, and were accordingly forced on board the vessels by a British press-gang, where this deponent understood they had